The Passaic Flood of 1903
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The Passaic Flood of 1903


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Title: The Passaic Flood of 1903 Author: Marshall Ora Leighton Release Date: November 20, 2006 [EBook #19878] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE PASSAIC FLOOD OF 1903 ***  
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Transcriber's note: A larger view of the photos may be seen by clicking on the image.
Water-Supply and Irrigation Paper No. Series M, General Hydrographic 92 Investigations, 8
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CONTENTS. ILLUSTRATIONS.  Letter of transmittal Introduction Precipitation Descent of flood  Highland tributaries and Central Basin  Flood at Macopin dam  Flood at Beattie's dam, Little Falls  Flood flow over Dundee dam Damages  General statements  Highland tributaries  Ramapo River  Pequanac and Wanaque rivers  Central Basin  Lower Valley  Paterson  Passaic and vicinity Preventive measures  General discussion  Lower valley improvements  Flood catchment  Pompton reservoir  Ramapo system  Wanaque system  Midvale reservoir  Ringwood reservoir  West Brook reservoir  Pequanac system  Newfoundland reservoir  Stickle Pond reservoir  Rockaway system  Powerville reservoir  Longwood Valley reservoir  Splitrock Pond  Upper Passaic Basin  Millington reservoir  Saddle River  Summary of flood-catchments projects  Preferable reservoir sites
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General conclusions 44 Index 47 Publications Of United States Geological Survey. 
  PLATE I.A, Beattie's dam, Little Falls, N. J., in flood;B, Flood-water lines in residence district, Paterson, N. J. II.A, Pompton Lakes dam and water front of Ludlum Steel and Iron Company;B, Dry bed of Pompton Lake III.Flood district of Paterson, N. J. IV.A, Washout at Spruce street, Paterson, N. J.;B, River street, Paterson, N. J., after flood V.A, Effects of flood in mill district, Paterson, N. J.;B, The wreck of a hotel in Paterson, N. J. VI.A, Devastation in Hebrew quarter, Paterson, N. J.;B, A common example of flood damage VII.A, Inundated lands at Passaic, N. J.;B, Undamaged bridge across Passaic River after partial subsidence of flood FIG. 1.Comparative flood run-off at Dundee dam, March, 1902, and October, 1903 2.Diagram of flood flow at Dundee dam, flood of 1903
LETTER OF TRANSMITTAL. DEPARTMENT OF THEIROIRETN, UNITEDSTATESGEOLOGICALSURVEY, HROGRYDCAPHIBRANCH, WTONHINGAS, D. C., DECEMBER4, 1903. SIR: I have the honor to transmit herewith a manuscript entitled, "Passaic Flood of 1903," prepared by Marshall Ora Leighton, and to request that it be published as one of the series of Water-Supply and Irrigation Papers. This paper is a continuation of Water-Supply and Irrigation Paper No. 88, by George B. Hollister and Mr. Leighton, and describes the flood of October, 1903, which was higher and far more disastrous than the flood of 1902. The occurrence of two great floods in the same basin during so short a period makes the subject worthy of attention, especially as the district is, from a manufacturing and commercial standpoint, one of the most important along the Atlantic coast. Very respectfully,
HON. CHARLESD. WALCOTT Director United States Geological Survey.
F. H. NEWELL, Chief Engineer.
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INTRODUCTION. In the following pages is given a brief history of the disastrous flood which occurred in the Passaic River Basin in October, 1903. In the report by George Buell Hollister and the writer, entitled "The Passaic Flood of 1902," and published by the United States Geological Survey as Water-Supply and Irrigation Paper No. 88, are discussed the principal physiographic features of the drainage basin and their general relations to the stream flow. This report will not repeat this information, and the discussion will be confined to the flood itself. References to local features will be made without explanation, the presumption being that this publication shall accompany the earlier one and be, as it is, a continuation of it. In the present report more attention is given to an estimate of damages than in the earlier work, and remedies by which devastation may be avoided are briefly considered. Passaic River overflowed its banks on October 8, 1903, and remained in flood until October 19. Between these dates there occurred the greatest and most destructive flood ever known along this stream. Ordinarily the channel of the lower Passaic at full bank carries about 12,000 cubic feet of water per second, but at the height of this flood it carried about 35,700 cubic feet per second. The flood period for the entire stream can not be exactly stated, as the overflow did not occur at the same time in different parts of the basin. For example, the gage-height records at Dundee dam show that the flood began to rise on October 8 at 6.30 a. m., and reached a maximum of 9-1/2 inches over the dam crest at 9 p. m. on October 10. Similarly, on Beattie's dam at Little Falls the flood began to rise at midnight on October 7, and reached its maximum at 2 p. m. on October 10, or about thirty-eight hours after the initial rise, the height of the water being 1.29 inches over the crest of the dam. The flood rose on the highland tributaries as follows: On Ramapo River the flood crest passed Hillborn at about 10 a. m. on October 9 and reached Pompton, at the mouth of the river, shortly after noon of the same day. The highest reading recorded on the Geological Survey gage at the feeder of Morris Canal, in Pompton Plains, was 14.3 feet, at about 6 o'clock on the morning of October 10. As this gage is read only once daily it is probable that this reading does not represent the height of the flood crest. Evidence shows that it passed this point on the previous day. Records of the Newark water department show that the flood on Pequanac River began to rise at Macopin dam on October 8 at noon, and rose rapidly to the maximum of 6,000 cubic feet per second at 4 p. m. on October 10. No records are available with reference to the rise of flood on Wanaque River. Observations made on Pompton Plains on the morning of the 11th show that Pompton River was well within its banks at that time; therefore the Ramapo, Wanaque, and Pequanac must have discharged their flood waters some time previous to this hour. The fact is important when considered in connection with the height of water in the main stream at that period. This observation was made only eighteen hours after the maximum height over Beattie's dam at Little Falls, and twelve hours after the flood crest passed Dundee dam. The conditions here outlined illustrate the rapidity with which flood waters are discharged from the Pompton drainage area, and the deterring effect of Great Piece Meadows upon the flood. The rise of the flood on Rockaway River at Old Boonton was almost coincident with that on Pequanac River at Macopin dam. The maximum flow occurred fourteen hours later than the maximum on the Ramapo at Pompton. The flood crest did not reach Chatham on upper Passaic River until the morning of October 11, or about twenty-four hours later than the flood heights in Pompton and Rockaway rivers, and about twelve hours later than the maximum over Dundee dam.
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Adequate reasons for these differences in flood periods between neighboring points are abundant. They are apparent after a review of the physiographic conditions described in Water-Supply Paper No. 88. The flood of 1903 was the immediate result of an enormous rainfall, and not, as is often the case in north temperate latitudes, the combined effect of rainfall and the rapid melting of accumulated snows. The records of weather-observation stations in northern New Jersey and New York fail to show, throughout their entire observation periods, as great an amount of precipitation in so short a period. The storm which was the immediate cause of the flood occurred principally between October 8 and 11. During that interval rain fell to an average depth of 11.74 inches over the Passaic Basin. The Passaic Basin is fairly well supplied with storage facilities, which, under ordinary circumstances, would temper the severity of floods by holding back a large amount of water. In this case no such effect was produced, as the reservoirs, lakes, and ponds on the drainage area were filled, or practically so, at the beginning of the storm, and there was consequently no available space in which to hold back even an appreciable part of the run-off water. Over some of the dams in the highland region a comparatively small amount of water was being discharged at the beginning of the storm. Therefore, while these storage basins may have had a certain deterring effect upon the rate of flood accumulation, they could not, in the end, assist materially in preventing damages in the lower part of the drainage area. PRECIPITATION. The precipitation records for June, July, August, and September are given below: Precipitation, in inches, in Passaic Valley and vicinity, June to September, 1903.  June. July. August. September.  Normal. Observed. Normal. Observed. Normal. Observed. Normal. Observed. Highland region:  Dover 3.29 15.02 5.54 5.47 5.08 9.04 4.02 3.39  Chester 3.48 12.80 6.42 7.59 5.16 9.35 4.60 ......  Charlotteburg 3.52 9.45 5.54 3.97 4.98 7.78 4.80 3.29  Ringwood ...... 10.13 ...... 3.08 ...... 6.17 ...... 3.06 Red Sandstone         plain:  Paterson 4.31 11.17 5.32 5.40 4.31 10.89 4.86 2.88  Hanover 3.32 ...... 5.23 5.40 5.20 9.40 4.52 ......  River Vale 3.17 10.62 4.87 3.41 4.17 ...... 3.61 2.90  Essex Fells 3.08 ...... 7.03 ...... 5.95 ...... 3.67 1.80  Newark 3.60 11.51 4.48 4.27 4.75 14.54 3.83 4.56  South 3.57 9.28 5.43 4.22 5.05 13.75 4.04 3.80 Orange  C  i New York3.137.424.263.234.705.963.722.60 ty  Plainfield 3.62 10.14 5.86 4.70 4.37 6.87 4.42 7.10  Elizabeth 3.68 8.76 5.74 4.31 4.26 7.15 4.14 4.38 An examination of the above table shows that throughout the summer of 1903 the precipitation was considerably above normal. The records for June and August indicate extremely wet months, and the July figures are slightly above while the September figures are somewhat below normal. The important fact shown by this table is that disastrous floods may occur after long periods of abundant rains. It has been observed that heavy precipitation may be expected after protracted periods of drought. Such a belief is not altogether fanciful. In the northeastern part of this country the total amount of precipitation is approximately uniform from year to year. The variations, comparatively speaking, are not very wide, and we are therefore led to expect that there are in operation influences which serve to compensate for excesses or deficiencies in our annual rainfall. Therefore after the abundant precipitation of the summer of 1903, an observer might have had some measure of justification in predicting a normally or abnormally dry fall. In view of the actual events the fact must be emphasized that in adopting measures
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to prevent floods the margin of safety must be extremely wide. The extraordinary rainfall of those three October days can not with assurance be accepted as the maximum. Precipitation, in inches, in Passaic Valley and vicinity, October 7 to 11, 1903.  From To Station. Day. Hour. Day. Hour. Amount. Highland region:  Dover 7 ..... 11 9 p.m. 10.13  Little Falls 7 4 a.m. 11 7 a.m. 14.13  Charlotteburg 7 ..... 10 ..... 12.67  Ringwood 8 11 a.m. 9 8 p.m. 10.63 Red Sandstone plain:  Paterson 7 5 a.m. 9 3.45 p.m. 15.04  River Vale 8 8 a.m. 11 6 p.m. 12.55  Essex Fells 8 ..... 9 4 p.m. 10.66  Newark 8 8.30 a.m. 11 5 a.m. 12.09  South Orange 8 6 a.m. 10 Night 10.48 The extremely rapid rate of precipitation during the crucial part of the storm is shown by the recording gages placed at observation stations in Newark and New York City.[Pg 13]  Hourly records of precipitation at New York observation station, October 8 and 9, 1903.  Inches. Inches. Oct. 8, 9 to 10 a. m. 0.08 Oct. 9, 1 to 2 a. m. 0.25  10 to 11 a. m. .02 2 to 3 a. m. .75  11 to 12 m. .32 3 to 4 a. m. .34  12 m. to 1 p. m. .10 4 to 5 a. m. .46  1 to 2 p. m. .05 5 to 6 a. m. .41  2 to 3 p. m. .06 6 to 7 a. m. .29  3 to 4 p. m. .34 7 to 8 a. m. .51  4 to 5 p. m. .01 8 to 9 a. m. 1.38  5 to 6 p. m. .10 9 to 10 a. m. 1.04  6 to 7 p. m. .02 10 to 11 a. m. .08  7 to 8 p. m. .93 11 to 12 m. .23  8 to 9 p. m. .32 12 m. to 1 p. m. .24  9 to 10 p. m. .24 1 to 2 p. m. .31  10 to 11 p. m. .27 2 to 3 p. m. .32  11 to 12 p. m. .26 3 to 4 p. m. .01  9, 12 to 1 a. m. .30 Total 6.92 Hourly record of precipitation at Newark observation station, October 8-11, 1903.  Inches. Inches. Oct. 8, 8.25 to 9 a. m. 0.05 Oct. 9, 7 to 8 a. m. 0.29  9 to 10 a. m. .04 8 to 9 a. m. .69  10 to 11 a. m. .00 9 to 10 a. m. .69  11 to 12 m. .00 10 to 11 a. m. .39  12 m. to 1 p. m. .14 11 to 12m. .20  1 to 2 p. m. .72 12m. to 1 p. m. .39  2 to 3 p. m. .49 1 to 2 p. m. .28
3 to 4 p. m. .11 4 to 5 p. m. 1.05 5 to 6 p. m. .45 6 to 7 p. m. 1.20 7 to 8 p. m. .60 8 to 9 p. m. .24 9 to 10 p. m. .24 10 to 11 p. m. .13 11 to 12 p. m. .17 9, 12 to 1 a. m. .29 1 to 2 a. m. .33 2 to 3 a. m. .62 3 to 4 a. m. .29 4 to 5 a. m. .35 5 to 6 a. m. .26 6 to 7 a. m. .13
2 to 3 p. m. .34 3 to 3.25 p. m. .13 11.50 to 11.55 p. m. .01 10, 3 to 4 a. m. .02 7 to 8 p. m. .07 8 to 9 p. m. .09 9 to 10 p. m. .02 10 to 11 p. m. .04 11 to 12 p. m. .04 11, 12 to 1 a. m. .06 1 to 2 a. m. .09 2 to 3 a. m. .03 3 to 4 a. m. .05 4 to 5 a. m. .01 Total 11.83   
 From the above tables it may be seen that the maximum rate of precipitation per hour was 1.38 inches at New York and 1.2 inches at Newark. Comparison of the tables on pages 11 and 12 gives an excellent idea of the intensity of the storm. The amount of water falling in a single storm is nearly equal to the total for June, a month of unusual precipitation. The average of the total amounts of precipitation recorded at the various stations in the Passaic area is 11.74 inches. These totals are fairly uniform, none of them varying widely from the average. Therefore the figure 11.74 represents a conservative mean for a calculation of total amount of water over the drainage area. Assuming this as the correct depth, the amount of water which fell on each square mile of the Passaic drainage area during the storm was 27,273,000 cubic feet, or for the whole Passaic drainage area over 27,000,000,000 cubic feet, weighing about 852,000,000 tons. This amount of water would, if properly stored, fill a lake with twenty times the capacity of Greenwood Lake, would cover Central Park in New York City, which has an area of about 1.5 square miles, to a height of 645 feet, and, at the present rate of water consumption in the city of Newark, N. J., would supply the city with water for twenty years.  
DESCENT OF FLOOD. HIGHLAND TRIBUTARIES AND CENTRAL BASIN. A description of the descent of flood waters from the highland tributaries into the Central Basin has been given in Water-Supply Paper No. 88. It has been shown that the lands of the Central Basin are covered even in ordinary freshets, and that in the event of a great flood the waters merely rise higher, being, for the greater extent, almost quiescent, and beyond the flooding of houses and barns and the destruction of crops, little damage is done. In other words, the flood along this portion is not torrential in character. During the flood of 1903 the water fell so quickly all over this basin, and was collected so rapidly by the small tributaries, that a lake was formed at once which served as a cushion against which the raging torrent of the highland tributaries spent itself without doing extraordinary damage in that immediate region. Bridges which might have been lost in a smaller flood like that of 1902 were actually standing in slack water by the time the mountain torrents appeared in force. These streams caused much destruction higher up in the mountains, but in the Central Basin their energy became potential—a gathering of forces to be loosed upon the lower valley. A discussion of the effects of this will be taken up under the heading "Damages. " In Water-Supply Paper No. 88 is given the proportion of flood waters contributed to the Central Basin by each of the tributaries. These figures were computed from the results of gagings maintained for a period sufficient to afford this information within a reasonable approximation. In the case of the storm which resulted in the flood of 1903 it is probable that data referred to can not be safely applied. The flood of 1902 was the result of abundant rains following upon and melting a heavy snow. Weather Bureau records show that neither the depth of the snow nor the amount of subsequent rainfall
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was uniform, or even approximately so, over the Passaic drainage area. Indeed, so marked was the variation that it was believed that the mean rainfall for all the observation stations on the basin did not bear sufficient relation to observed run-off to allow of any reliable deductions. In the case of the October storm, however, the distribution of rainfall was more nearly uniform, and the run-off from the highland tributaries into the Central Basin must have been proportionately different in amount from that indicated in the upland tributary tables in the report of the previous flood. The data given for the 1902 flood can not, therefore, in the case of the highland tributaries, be applied to the conditions which obtained in the flood of 1903.  FLOOD AT MACOPIN DAM. Mr. Morris R. Sherrerd, engineer of the Newark city water board, has furnished flow computations over Macopin intake dam, which is the head of the Newark pipe line. As about 73 per cent of the Pequanac drainage area lies above this intake, the table on page 16 shows roughly an equivalent percentage of the flow contributed by Pequanac River to the Central Basin of the Passaic. In consulting this table it should be borne in mind that the entire run-off of the drainage area above Macopin is about 25,000,000 gallons per day more than the amounts presented in this table. All reservoirs and ponds connected with the conservancy system of the Newark water supply were filled except that at Oakridge, which was about 1.5 feet below the crest of the spillway.  
Flow of Pequanac River over Macopin dam, October 7-24, 1903. [From Newark water department.]  Cubic feet. Oct. 8, 6 a. m. to 12 m. 240,600  12m. to 4 p. m. 347,600  4 to 6 p. m. 842,200 8-9, 6 p. m. to 6 a. m. 40,110,000 9, 6 a. m. to 12 m. 51,870,000  12m. to 1 p. m. 15,100,000  1 to 5 p. m. 62,430,000  5 to 10 p. m. 89,040,000  10 to 11 p. m. 19,520,000 9-10, 10 p. m. to 8 a. m. 201,350,000 10, 8 a. m. to 12 m. 75,670,000  12 m. to 6 p. m. 103,650,000  6 to 12 p. m. 73,530,000 11, 12 to 6 a. m. 56,820,000  6 a. m. to 12m. 41,440,000  12 m. to 6 p. m. 32,755,000  6 to 12 p. m. 25,665,000 12, 12 to 6 a. m. 23,800,000  6 a. m. to 12m. 20,725,000  12 m. to 6 p. m. 18,450,000  6 to 12 p. m. 15,105,000 13, 12 to 6 a. m. 13,370,000  6 a. m. to 12 m. 11,890,000  12 m. to 6 p. m. 11,230,000  6 to 12 p. m. 11,230,000
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14, 12 to 6 a. m. 9,626,000  6 a. m. to 12 m. 8,690,000  12 m. to 6 p. m. 8,022,000  6 to 12 p. m. 7,353,000 15, 12 to 6 a. m. 6,952,000  6 a. m. to 6 p. m. 12,700,000 15-16, 6 p. m. to 6 a. m. 10,965,000 16, 6 a. m. to 6 p. m. 10,025,000 16-17, 6 p. m. to 6 a. m. 9,091,000 17, 6 a. m. to 6 p. m. 8,690,000 17-18, 6 p. m. to 6 a. m. 9,893,000 18, 6 a. m. to 6 p. m. 10,565,000 18-19, 6 p. m. to 6 a. m. 8,690,000 19, 6 a. m. to 6 p. m. 6,952,000 19-20, 6 p. m. to 6 a. m. 6,150,000 20, 6 a. m. to 6 p. m. 5,882,000 20-21, 6 p. m. to 6 a. m. 5,749,000 21, 6 a. m. to 6 p. m. 5,481,000 21-22, 6 p. m. to 6 a. m. 5,214,000 22, 6 a. m. to 6 p. m. 4,144,000 22-23, 6 p. m. to 6 a. m. 3,677,000 23, 6 a. m. to 6 p. m. 3,877,000 23-24, 6 p. m. to 6 a. m. 5,749,000 24, 6 a. m. to 6 p. m. 5,615,000
 FLOOD AT BEATTIE'S DAM, LITTLE FALLS. The flow over Beattie's dam at Little Falls, has been calculated according to coefficients used for the same dam in Water-Supply Paper No. 88. Recorded gage heights show that over the main dam there was a maximum depth of 11.12 feet, which continued from 2 to 8 p. m., on October 10, representing a maximum flow of 31,675 cubic feet per second. (See Pl. I, A.) In the following table is set forth the flow of the river over Beattie's dam during the flood, and for purposes of comparison, the figures for the flood period of March, 1902. It should be borne in mind in consulting this table, that in the case of the flood of 1903 exact dates and hours are given, while the figures for the 1902 flood represent flow determinations at six-hour intervals, beginning with the initial rise of that flood.
Flood flow over Beattie's dam during floods of 1902 and 1903.
Date and hour. 1903. 1902.[A]   Sec.-feet. Sec.-feet. Oct. 8, 12 p.m 1,645 490 9, 6 a.m. 4,235 700  12 m. 8,560 1,350  6 p.m. 15,755 2,120  12 p.m. 23,927 3,540 10, 6 a.m. 28,370 4,250  12 m. 31,305 4,600  6 p.m. 31,675 5,000  12 p.m. 30,770 6,500 11, 6 a.m. 29,840 7,600  12 m. 28,950 8,250  6 p.m. 26,960 9,000  12 p.m. 25,530 10,200 12, 6 a.m. 24,435 11,450  12 m. 22,625 14,700  6 p.m. 20,810 18,150  12 p.m. 18,655 20,650 13, 6 a.m. 17,930 22,200  12 m. 16,190 22,700  6 p.m. 14,900 23,400  12 p.m. 13,615 23,300 14, 6 a.m. 12,340 22,950  12 m. 11,740 22,650  6 p.m. 10,975 22,350  12 p.m. 9,820 22,100 15, 6 a.m. 9,180 21,150
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12 m. 8,330 19,900 6 p.m. 7,700 18,900 12 p.m. 7,005 17,350 6 a.m. 6,695 15,750 12 m. 5,920 13,900 6 p.m. 5,620 13,300 12 p.m. 5,360 11,800 6 a.m. 4,855 10,650 Below full bank 8,900 Do...... 8,500 Do...... 8,100 Do...... 8,200 Do...... 7,000 Do...... 6,250 Do...... 5,900 Do...... 5,300 Do...... 5,200 Do...... 4,900
 FLOOD FLOW OVER DUNDEE DAM. The flood, as indicated by gage heights at Dundee dam, lasted from about 6.30 p. m. October 8 to about midnight October 18. Although the maximum recorded gage height was 19 inches higher than during the flood of 1902, the actual time during which the river was out of its banks was forty-five hours less than at the earlier flood. Examination of fig. 1 shows that the flood of 1903 was decidedly more intense than that of 1902, the maximum height being reached in 1903 in about sixty hours, while in 1902 the maximum was not reached until the expiration of about one hundred and twenty hours. At Dundee dam the familiar break in the progress of the flood took place about thirty-five hours after the initial rise. It occurred before the time of the maximum gage height at the mouth of Pompton River, and there is nothing to indicate that it was caused, as has been claimed, by slack water from the Pompton flood being forced back into Great Piece Meadows. There is no doubt that a part of the Pompton flood was so diverted, but there was maintained throughout at Little Falls a steady pressure, which constantly increased to maximum. This flood check, at Dundee dam was observed in 1902, but it could not be shown to arise from the frequently mentioned phenomena at the mouth of Pompton River. It is important to prove or disprove this hypothesis. If it were found to be true, it could be advantageously taken into consideration in connection with measures for the prevention of flood damages. As the Pompton had no such effect upon the flood flow at Dundee dam in two consecutive historic floods, the writer is inclined to believe that the idea is entirely erroneous.
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